A sermon delivered on July 21, 2013 by two readers, with slides projected behind them, based upon Luke 10:38 – 42.
Denise: Last week we heard how a lawyer asked Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Anna: Jesus put the question back on the lawyer.
Denise: Funny how he resists being the “answer man.”
Anna: “What is written in the Law?” Jesus asks. “How do you read it?”
Denise: The lawyer comes up with a really good answer. He quotes two laws.
Anna: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”
Denise: And… “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Anna: “You have answered correctly,” said Jesus. You get an A plus.
Denise: “Do this and you will live.”
Anna: “Do this,” Jesus says, as if it were a simple thing – a whole slew of words that mean all encompassing devotion and commitment – all boiled down to one little word: “this.”
Denise: Do this: love God completely, and your neighbor as yourself.
Anna: The Lawyer asked a sensible question.
Denise: “Who is my neighbor?” Just exactly who am I responsible for?
Anna: To which Jesus responded by telling the story of a Samaritan who goes out of his way to show compassion to a stranger who was beat up and left half dead at the side of the road. He attended to the man’s wounds, put the man on his donkey, and took him to an inn. Then he paid the bill for the man’s stay, promising to pick up the tab for whatever other expenses the man might incur.
Denise: A good, down-to-earth story. And Jesus finishes it up by saying,
Anna: “Go and do likewise.” Love involves doing.
Denise: A challenging story, for sure, but clear at least.
Anna: When we’re needed, don’t sit back and take it easy. Do what needs to be done.
Denise: (Pause.) But that was last week. This week the Gospel writer Luke follows up the story of the Good Samaritan with quite a different story.
Anna: A very short story that manages in just a few verses to put us back in a state of confusion regarding what it is Jesus wants us to be doing in this world. It starts out like this:
Denise: “Now as they went on their way, (Jesus) entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.”
Anna: A good woman, that Martha. A hard worker, for sure.
Denise: Martha was serious about providing hospitality. She wanted Jesus to feel truly welcomed in her house – well loved.
Anna: In all likelihood, Martha knew Jesus was coming, so she had some time to prepare. She’d gone to the market, purchased fruits and vegetables, and had a nice lamb butchered.
Denise: She’d rolled up her sleeves and cleaned the house, shaken out the rugs, chopped the vegetables, set the bread to rise, made the salad, worried over which dishes to use.
Anna: “(Martha) had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.”
Denise: Which was kind of surprising, given that in those days a woman’s place was in the kitchen, but here Mary was sitting with the male disciples, listening to the master teach.
Anna: Well, good for her. Equal to the men, and Jesus didn’t seem to have a problem with that.
Denise: But then again, there was work that needed to be done.
Anna: “But Martha was distracted by her many tasks.”
Denise: Actually, it would be more accurate to say she was getting really irritated with her sister for not lifting a finger to help her – to do her fare share of the work of hospitality.
Anna: And with Jesus, too, for that matter, for allowing her to get away with it.
Denise: So finally Martha loses it.
Anna: “So Martha came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’”
Denise: Who can blame her?
Anna: There are all kinds of things we could imagine Jesus saying at this point. What he does say, if we weren’t already familiar with this story, comes as a surprise: he says,
Denise: “‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’”
Anna: What!? So he chooses to compliment Mary who’s doing nothing rather than Martha who’s doing everything!? Whatever happened to the Good Samaritan and “go and do likewise?”
Denise: And what exactly is this “better part” that Mary has “chosen?”
Anna: As we said, it can get pretty confusing following Jesus.
Denise: The confusing part has to do with the fact that Jesus didn’t come to give us a set of rules to live by. He came to give us himself – to be in relationship with him.
Anna: And as in any other relationship with a person, how we go about being in relationship to Jesus in any give moment varies from situation to situation.
Denise: It’s not a matter of Mary the woman of prayer vs. Martha the woman of action.
Anna: It’s both prayer and action.
Denise: Often Jesus wants us to love him by finding him in somebody we happen to meet as we go down the road of life.
Anna: Like the Samaritan happening upon the man beaten by the side of the road.
Denise: At one moment it may involve finding Jesus hidden inside the person with whom we live.
Anna: Or the person we work beside.
Denise: Or the person we happen to cross paths with while we’re out shopping.
Anna: It might be a person in obvious distress, like the man the Samaritan met left half dead at the side of the road.
Denise: Or it might be someone who doesn’t need anything from us other than a simple human connection.
Anna: Maybe somebody to laugh with.
Denise: Somebody who has some gift to give us.
Anna: Finding Jesus in disguise, as we like to say here.
Denise: It’s a matter of paying attention.
Anna: Sometimes what Jesus wants from us is to simply be still and listen.
Denise: Be still and let ourselves be loved.
Anna: Let the stillness enter into our hearts; bringing peace.
Denise: Be still and listen for the nudges that come if we are paying attention.
Anna: The story suggests that Martha wasn’t paying attention. Her intentions were good, but she was so convinced of her own understanding of what was needed that she missed what Jesus truly needed in the particular instance.
Denise: Maybe he didn’t need a seven course meal. What Jesus needed were people who could be quietly present to him, taking in what he had to say.
Anna: Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. He knew he was going to die. He wanted to share communion – souls touching souls – and you don’t need a lot of food for communion. Just some bread and a little wine will do.
Denise: This story is a reminder of what happens when we can’t let go of our attempt to be in control, and trust that we are in God’s hands, even when life seems totally out of control.
Anna: How easily we become “anxious and troubled about many things,” consumed with worry and aggravation, forgetting that God is God, and we are not, and that is good news.
Denise: We become addicted to busyness, and find ourselves always in a hurry. We forget who we are, and whose we, and why we’re doing things in the first place.
Anna: Irritable and anxious, we sabotage the good we intended to do.
Denise: Our supposedly loving actions become undermined by our own inner resentments and frustration.
Anna: A desire to provide hospitality gives way to a competition regarding who is most worthy of love.
Denise: We spin out of control, having lost our anchor, our connection to the source of all life and love, the eternally merciful One, the giver of peace.
Anna: We lose touch with – as in the words of the song we sing every Sunday — “the quiet center in the crowded life we live.”
Denise: In the “chaos and the clutter,” we despair, forgetting that what we most need – the love from which nothing can separate us – is already here.
Anna: The “one thing needful” is God’s kingdom, and Jesus tells us, this kingdom is always at hand.
Denise: It’s as near as our next breath, if only we can turn and enter it like a child.
Anna: It’s not necessary to have every thing just right – all our problems solved – to perceive the kingdom of God.
Denise: It’s here, in this moment, if only we have eyes to see.
Anna: (Pause.) Edwina Gateley, is a woman both of prayer and of action.
From 1981 to 1982, Edwina lived for nine months in prayer and solitude in a hermitage in Illinois. In 1983, she spent over a year on the streets of Chicago, walking with the homeless and women involved in prostitution.
Denise: Within these two experiences were the seeds of her ministry that would be realized in 1983 when she founded a house of hospitality and nurturing for women involved in prostitution.
Anna: As we draw to a close, let the words of a poem written by Edwina lead us into prayer. The poem is called, “Let Your God Love You.”
Denise: Be silent.
Anna: Be still.
Denise: Before your God.
Anna: Say nothing.
Denise: Ask nothing.
Anna: Be silent.
Denise: Be still.
Anna: Let your God look upon you.
Denise: That is all.
Anna: God knows.
Denise: God understands.
Anna: God loves you with an enormous love,
Denise: And only wants to look upon you with that love.
Denise: Let your God—
Anna: Love you.
(Music fades out.)